Lovemore Ranga Mataire The Reader
The Offshoot (2008) by Priority Project Publishing is a uniquely woven narrative that lies between a short story, a novella or a novel. It is too long to be a short story, too long to be a novella and seemingly falls short of being a “normal” novel because of its concise length.
Nevertheless, the book is one of its kind in that it is unusual for a “novel” to be co-authored by individuals whose only contact and interaction is through the written word. Brighton Mazhindu and Ruby Magosvongwe never got to physically meet each other as the former sadly passed away before the book went to print. Like an inspired Goddess, Magosvongwe “fleshed” up the framework of The Offshoot and the product of her input was a gem of a book gleaning on several social realistic concerns.
The Offshoot is a typical story of a typical post-colonial African family entangled between the cultural patriarchal web and the expectations of a Western mode of legal system. The African cultural milieu is depicted as archaic as it denigrates and deprives the women folk of a sense of being, especially after the death of their spouses.
Centred on Mary Gokora, a widow, whose husband succumbs to the deadly HIV-Aids pandemic, the story depicts how things fall apart soon after the burial of the male breadwinner. Mary is deprived of her rightful inheritance, which includes the matrimonial house in Mufakose after turning down proposals to be “inherited” as a wife by “eligible” male relatives of her deceased husband. Even her children are forcibly taken from her and she is immediately declared an outcast and alien in the Gokora family.
Although predictable, the plot is artistically structured through the trials and tribulations of Mary who is banished from her Mufakose house and forced to stay with her mother in Buhera while the children undergo an even horrendous existence under the care of their father’s relatives. The children, Masiiwa (the eldest) and Nyasha (a minor) are rendered street urchins and eventually end up at Goodhope Children’s’ Home.
As fate would have it, mother and children are later reunited through the sudden intervention of the deceased’s lawyer whom the reader learns has been frantically trying to locate Mary.
There are several occasions where the reader subconsciously swept away into a pitiful state of delirium through the trials of Masiiwa and her sibling particularly as she relates how she was raped by a man, Mr Carlos, in a glittering Mercedes Benz. There is no doubt that the book succeeds in gleaning on issues affecting women and children in post-colonial Zimbabwe.
Issues of inheritance, gender equality, children’s rights, corruption, and cultural manipulation are explicitly illuminated although some readers may find certain conversations unrealistic in that it appears as though the authors intend to foist their own views upon the narrative.
The authorial voice becomes so intrusive that it does not leave room for the reader’s independent interpretation especially on page 17.
“Masiiwa was baffled and muttered, “Custom, culture, custom! Who is the beneficiary? Should we mutilate bodies of the dead because of custom? Can such customs not be changed? But who should change it? Each time they fail to explain an injustice they hide behind custom and culture.”
The apparent distasteful attitude of Masiiwa clearly exemplifies an individual who is caught in the confusion of seemingly meaningless cultural values that are no longer in tandem with her modern world view.
Another long conversation between Mary and her mother also exposes some kind of agenda setting by the authors as exemplified by the mother when she says: “That’s the correct attitude you have, Mary. The traditional patriarchal system has been open to abuse for too long. I believe it now needs reformation or it will die a costly death in this 21st century. Go on, go Mary. I will present your wish and intentions to your father. Why is it that our otherwise good traditional system does not have a feminist ear?” (page 88).
The mother goes on laboriously lamenting the avariciousness of African cultural values that she says need urgent reform in a manner that clearly makes the text obtrusively contrived.